South Africa

South African education crisis – only 55% of teachers can perform at grade 4 level

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Education Research Report revealed that only 55% of South African teachers performed at the same level as grade 4 children internationally.

The report was commissioned to understand key challenges and prioritising opportunities in the South African education system.

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust said it provides high-level findings that may be of interest to philanthropy and other key sector players.

This report focuses on the three sectors of education – early childhood development, basic education, and higher education.

The researchers found big gaps in early childhood development, which hampers these kids’ performance in school.

“Our country cannot afford to lose yet another generation of learners by not giving them the key capabilities they need to succeed at higher levels of education,” it said.

However, the schooling system had even bigger problems. There is a severe lack of suitably qualified teachers and a shortage of new high-quality teachers.

The most significant challenge in the basic education system is teachers’ lack of subject knowledge and skills to teach learners.

  • 80% of grade 6 Mathematics learners were taught by teachers with mathematics subject knowledge below the grade 6 level.
  • Only 55% of South African teachers met the intermediate benchmark of Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) – which 82% of all grade 4 learners achieved internationally.

Simply put, a large percentage of South African teachers lacked the basic knowledge of the subjects they taught.

The underlying causes of the teacher qualification and knowledge challenge can be split into three categories:

  • In-service training – Historically, poor in-service training, the limited scalability of effective programmes, and poor evaluation of in-service programmes were detrimental.
  • Pre-service training – Questionable content knowledge standards of BEd degrees, a lack of strong candidates, and incorrect subject allocations in schools also hampered progress.
  • Curriculum problems – Changes in the curriculum without corresponding support for educators and too much content caused problems with teacher knowledge.

The results are telling. Only 19% of grade 4 learners in South Africa understand the meaning of what they are reading in any language.

Most of South Africa’s youth leave the schooling system not equipped with even the most basic numeracy and literacy skills that employers require for entry-level positions.

The address the problem, researchers proposed an increase in the number of high-quality new teachers coming through school-based ITE programmes to supplement the university-based ITE system.

It also supported fresh thinking and action in South African universities and higher education institutions in general.

“We must also understand and further develop the role that technology can play in supporting both foundation phase learners and teachers,” the report said.


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